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Shrubland Restoration Following Woody Alien Invasion and Mining: Effects of Topsoil Depth, Seed Source, and Fertilizer Addition

Authors


 Address correspondence to P. M. Holmes, 23 Dreyersdal Road, Bergvliet, 7945, Cape Province, South Africa, email prebelo@mweb.co.za

Abstract

Invasion by woody alien plants, construction, and mining operations are among the major disturbances degrading vegetation in the Cape Floristic Kingdom, South Africa. The aim of this study was to assess whether native fynbos shrubland vegetation could be restored following dense alien invasion and disturbance by mining. An area supporting dense alien trees was cleared and topsoil was stripped and stockpiled to simulate mining disturbance. A field trial investigated the effects of topsoil depth, seed mix application, and fertilizer on native species recruitment and vegetation development over a three-year period. Soil-stored seed banks contributed 60% of the species recruited, indicating that areas invaded for three decades have good restoration potential. The addition of a fynbos seed mix, which included serotinous overstory species, improved both the richness and structural composition of the vegetation. Most species sown in untopsoiled plots established, but survival and growth was low compared to topsoil plots. Poor growth in combination with a lack of soil seed bank species, indicate that restoring a diverse and functional cover of indigenous vegetation on subsoil is not possible in the short-term. Soil amelioration is required to improve rooting conditions and initiate ecosystem processes. Shallow and deep topsoil treatments yielded high plant density, richness, and projected canopy cover, but canopy cover was higher in deep topsoil plots throughout the trial. Fertilizer addition increased canopy cover in untopsoiled and shallow topsoil plots via an increase in alien annual species. Fertilizer addition ultimately may lead to increased native vegetation cover in untopsoiled areas, but as it increased proteoid mortality on deep topsoil plots, it is not recommended for sites where topsoil is available. A species-rich and structurally representative fynbos community may be restored on topsoiled areas provided that the native disturbance regime is simulated and seeds of major structural guilds not present in the soil seed bank are included in the seed mix.

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